You Said It

There Is a Light That Never Goes Out

What The Rocky Horror Picture Show meant to me (a lot).

All illustrations by Minna.

The year I turned 13 (exactly 20 years ago this month!), two very special men came into my life. While they both had long, flowing hair, androgynous costumes, a yearning for togetherness, and a flair for controversy, they couldn’t have been more different. One of them was Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the Transylvanian transvestite from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The other was Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Let me explain how these two fellows wound up in my life. It was 1991 and my parents had been divorced for about seven years. I lived with my dad, but my mom would sometimes come over to our house and they would treat each other with the kind of stilted cordiality you usually reserve for people you run into at the airport—you know you know them from somewhere, but you don’t want to ask their name because it might offend them and you also vaguely remember that this person may have a tendency toward violence.

I’ve always been the perfect example of the introvert/extrovert personality-type dilemma. When I was young I was painfully shy, to the point that I think my dad was a little concerned. He went out of his way to enroll me in extracurricular activities: karate class, art class … he even forced me to be a mime (“PLEEEEEEEEEEASE DON’T MAKE ME BE A MIIIIIME!” I’d sob on the car ride to mime class). I didn’t want people to see me or know who I was. On the other hand, I loved making my friends pretend to be the band Blondie and force performances on the mailman in the lobby of our apartment building, so go figure.

To further his campaign to bring me out of my shell, my dad also encouraged me to audition for my junior high’s production of The Phantom of the Opera. I secretly yearned to be onstage, but was petrified to let anyone know. My father helped me prepare, though, and I got a small part. I was over the moon! I had heard that junior high was a treasure trove of freaks and geeks, but didn’t know where to find them. Turns out they were all lurking in the theater department (duh). That’s how I first heard about The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

For those of you who don’t know what Rocky Horror is (where have you been since 1975 aside from mostly not born?), I will try my best to explain it, though it is difficult because on one hand it is a silly piece of nonsensical fluff and on the other it is a way of life.

While it was a huge hit onstage in London in the early ’70s, Rocky Horror didn’t do so hot in the movie theaters upon its release in 1975. It did, however, manage to generate a crazy midnight-movie cult following a year later, which continues to thrive around the world as we speak.

At the midnight showings, a live cast of performers act out the entire movie while it plays onscreen behind them. Everyone in the audience dresses up too, sings along, shouts audience-participation dialogue, and throws props at the screen. It is a giant slice of glittery mayhem and should be experienced by all before it is too late (death). (No, the Glee tribute ep doesn’t count.)

The plot, in a nutshell: Newly engaged squares Brad and Janet are so jazzed about their upcoming wedding that they decide to rush to the home of their friend, Dr. Everett Scott, to share the news. Unfortunately, their car gets a flat, so they walk over to a nearby castle hoping to use the phone, only to find there is an intergalactic science convention going on hosted by some singing, dancing aliens! Their leader, Dr. Frank-N-Furter (played by the supernova of talent that is Tim Curry), informs everyone that he likes to wear ladies’ undergarments and has just created a muscle-bound stud in his lab. Then there’s some murder and Mickey Mouse hats and cannibalism and everyone gets turned into a statue and winds up really horny and runs amok in fishnets and sings in a swimming pool and the castle blasts off into outer space, the end.

My best friends, fellow theater geeks Tiffany and Lisa, had snuck out one Friday night and gone to a midnight showing at the Fox Theatre on the Hill in our hometown of Boulder, Colorado. They returned with scandalous tales of feather boas, squirt guns, flying toast, loud rock music, and men in ladies’ underthings. It sounded terrifying, forbidden, and deeply, profoundly awesome.

A few nights later, my dad took my brother and me to his girlfriend’s house for dinner. Her name was Janice, which was hilarious because she had the same dippy, easygoing demeanor as the Muppet she shared a name with.

“Have you ever heard of something called The Rocky Horror Picture Show?” I asked over dessert.

“TOUCH-A-TOUCH-A TOUCH MEEEEE, I WANNA FEEL DIIIRTY!!!!” Janice bleated, to everyone’s dismay. “Come ON!” she hollered at her ungrateful audience. She left the dining room and came back with a CD. She handed it to me: it was the Rocky Horror soundtrack. “Try that on for size,” she said.

At that time I don’t think I even had a CD player (remember, this was sometime between when the unicorns vanished and when the Internet was born), so I couldn’t try it on for size until I was able to get to Tiffany’s house. She made a cassette-tape copy for me and I played it all night long and all over the weekend. I had no idea what the hell the plot of the story was, but I later learned that wasn’t really a concern.

One day after play practice Lisa and Tiffany asked me if I thought my dad would let me go to the midnight showing of Rocky Horror with them. I broke out into a cold sweat. I was dying to see it, but I was also secretly terrified. I’d never gone out without a parent before, not to mention I’d heard that newcomers to the movie had to be devirginized onstage! What did that even mean?!

That evening at home I asked my dad, “Ummm, I was wondering if it would maybe be OK if I went out with Lisa and Tiffany and some of their friends to see Rocky Horror on the Hill Friday night?”

“Taking two ladies out on the town, eh?” my dad said, waggling his eyebrows at me. I had planned a few good arguments on my behalf in case he said no, but to my surprise he immediately sad yes!

I called Lisa with the good news.

“Rad,” she said. “What are you going to wear?”

“What do you think I should wear?”

“I don’t know. What do you want to be devirginized in? I don’t suppose you have fishnets and a garter belt?”

“Oh dang it, they’re at the cleaners. I’m 13 for chrissakes, of course I don’t have fishnets!”

“All right, just go as a Transylvanian, that’s a safe bet. Black pants and jacket, white shirt, and a party hat.”

I hung up the phone, but I couldn’t shake the image of myself laid out in a white gown on a stage in front of an audience chanting: VIRGIN! VIRGIN! VIRGIN! VIRGIN!

At the time, I didn’t really understand what that word meant. I’d heard it sung about in carols and talked about in church, so I knew it couldn’t have anything to do with sex, which had no business being in Christmas! In fact, when it came to sex in general, I was absolutely clueless. I’m not really sure why—my father was a hip single dad who fancied himself very progressive and very permissive. Maybe that was part of the problem: he thought he was so ahead of the curve that he just assumed I knew everything already.

In the past, when I’d asked if I could stay over at Lisa’s house, my dad would say, “OK, but make sure you wear a condom!” and laugh at me and wink, which made me blush nearly to the point of bleeding to death. I barely knew what a condom was. At this point I don’t think I’d yet been cleared of the misconception that “oral sex” meant chatting about it (if you haven’t been cleared of that misconception yet, don’t be embarrassed—but just for the record, oral sex hopefully doesn’t involve much talking, if any at all).

Looking back, I think there were a few contributing factors to my absolutely staggering sexual mystification. First of all, I was a late bloomer. I understood what sex was, technically, but I didn’t know what anyone expected me to do about it. The surges of hormonal energy I felt never seemed to be directed at a particular object.

Also, whenever sex was mentioned in school it was always referred to in some man-lady context. Maybe I would have felt more interested in it if I knew other configurations were possible. I wasn’t in denial about being gay; I just didn’t get that it was an option.

Don’t think I didn’t hear it though, the tittering and murmuring behind my back and to my face: “Is he gay?” “Do you think he’s going to grow up gay?” “Are you gay?” Or the sophisticated adults who prided themselves on being terribly open and accepting: “You’re gay, right? Don’t be embarrassed, it’s fabulous!”

If I was too young to know what a virgin was I was also definitely too young to know what gay meant. Besides, nothing deflates the fun of self-discovery like a bunch of loudmouths with the advantage of not being you telling you just who and what you are. By the time I realized that I was attracted to men I was ready to stay in the closet for another six months like a big gay groundhog, not because I was ashamed or in denial, but because I was a teenager and was fully committed to being the opposite of whatever anyone said I was, so there!

The Friday we planned on going to the movie Tiffany handed me a note between two classes. At the top of some fringed paper ripped out of her spiral notebook, she had written, in big purple block letters: “ROCKY HORROR KIT.” She then wrote out the list of props I’d need to bring to the theater for the audience participation part:

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38 Comments

  • vintage nerd October 3rd, 2011 11:05 PM

    i love this so much. i feel like i can relate to this like crazy!<3

  • Ksyce October 3rd, 2011 11:14 PM

    The Rocky Horror Picture Show is and always will be my favorite movie. Growing up, I didn’t know anyone outside of my family that even knew what it was. I’m so glad to see that it affected someone else the way it affected me :)

  • Anna F. October 3rd, 2011 11:15 PM

    oh gosh, this was wonderful. I laughed so hard!
    Confession: for the longest time as a tween, I thought “oral sex” referred to making out. As in, “Ugh, I saw these two teenagers oral sexing each other in front of EVERYBODY at the movie theatre.”

  • boyhood October 3rd, 2011 11:25 PM

    “and was fully committed to being the opposite of whatever anyone said I was, so there!” that’s so great! haha

    I am having my first rocky horror theater experience in a few weeks. The rocky horror kit list is so cool and I’m pretty sure I’m going as a Transylvanian as well. this entire article is so helpful! Thanks for posting it sooner rather than later in the month. Knowing about the de-virginizing stuff is nice so I don’t completely freak out if that goes down.

  • Jamie October 3rd, 2011 11:27 PM

    for the longest time i resisted rocky horror because my mom likes it. now i’m so into it

    also, i thought oral was phone sex for a looooong time

  • Anna F. October 3rd, 2011 11:35 PM

    Oral Sex is the new Milk With Ice is the new Not a Tomato

  • Laia October 3rd, 2011 11:44 PM

    “He reminds me of the band Queen,” Stan continued. “I used to love them. Then I realized what kind of queen they were talking about. Now I only listen to Rush.”

    O.M.G.
    this is my favorite thing i’ve read all week.

  • Chimdi October 3rd, 2011 11:52 PM

    was that a Smiths reference or not…?

    • Anaheed October 6th, 2011 2:08 AM

      Yes, I think like half of our headlines are probably safely assumed to be Smiths references.

  • WordyDoodles October 3rd, 2011 11:59 PM

    This. was. FABULOUS!!! I loved your descriptions/memories of what your sexual knowledge was like as a young teen. It totally reminds me of me at that age too– kind of knew, but really didn’t. What a beautiful description of the edge of knowing.

  • puffytoad October 4th, 2011 12:16 AM

    woah

  • fullmetalguitar October 4th, 2011 12:53 AM

    Somehow that description of the cute college freshman taking the cherry from you was way more touching than it probably had any right to be ahaha ~

  • atrevidinha October 4th, 2011 12:58 AM

    “He reminds me of the band Queen,” Stan continued. “I used to love them. Then I realized what kind of queen they were talking about. Now I only listen to Rush.”

    so many ways this quote is hilarious, mainly the rush reference though LOLOLOLOL

  • ironsides October 4th, 2011 1:20 AM

    beautifully written. rocky horror gives you permission to be loud and beautiful and horrifying and lovely and though my initial fervor for it has faded, it is still something i can truly say i love.

  • littleDani October 4th, 2011 1:40 AM

    i saw Rocky Horror for the first time when i was 13. it pretty much influenced most of my adolescence. i haven’t been devirginized unfortunately :[ hopefully soon, i’ve been dying to see it

  • Bren October 4th, 2011 1:41 AM

    I used to think oral sex was like, two people meditating together and thinking about sex.

    My best friend is playing Janet in RHPS and I won’t be there to see it, I don’t think. I’m so upset.

  • CariStereo October 4th, 2011 2:05 AM

    “PLEEEEEEEEEEASE DON’T MAKE ME BE A MIIIIIME!”

    Oh god I laughed so hard. WONDERFUL reminiscences about *that one thing* that changes your whole world when you’re growing up. Big smiles.

  • TwirlingChef October 4th, 2011 2:18 AM

    Great article! I can still remember how excited I was to go to your murder mystery parties. How I wish I could have had the chance to go to Rocky Horror in Boulder with you!
    It’s great to see you going after your dreams!

  • emilyrose October 4th, 2011 4:25 AM

    this is so great! love the story and the humor, kevin is such a great writer, i lol’ed quite a few times by myself here.

  • elies October 4th, 2011 5:55 AM

    Oh! This article is so great in so many ways..
    also reminds me I should finally watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show

  • teenagewastebag October 4th, 2011 10:00 AM

    Rocky Horror Picture Show is one of my all time favortie movies, I saw it around the same age as you and my cousin showed it to me on dvd. I wish I could’ve seen it in a theater with the whole play along thing going on. My mom didn’t even know what RHPS was, meaning I obviously have always been the black sheep of the family. I love Rookie and it gives me hope to become something more than what I am today, Im graduating this year and still don’t know what I wanna do with myself.

  • flowerpunk October 4th, 2011 10:04 AM

    This made me smile! But then I got all sad because I realized that I don’t really have the chance to go to a screening in my country… I guess I’ll just have to wait till I go to college!

  • t-bird October 4th, 2011 11:34 AM

    A favorite bumper sticker of mine reads, “Jesus, save me from your followers.” It’s a favorite I think because it’s sadly so true…and convicting. You see, I am one of those followers, and I pretty consistently fail to live out the most important things about who Jesus really is…that he’s someone who LOVES us, really KNOWS us, and STICKS by us as we stumble and fumble through this crazy world and the life we’ve been given.

  • Anny October 4th, 2011 1:23 PM

    After reading in the dark shadows quietly, I have finally decided to leave a comment on one of the stories you have featured. It is stories like these that make Rookie so incredible and something I wish I had when I was younger but I am happy it’s around now!

    When I was 14 a friend of mine came up to me at my locker saying that someone was saying I gave them “head” I remember laughing awkwardly and finally admitting to them that I had no idea what that was. My friend laughed and inched in closer to divulge the dirty little definition.

    Obviously this story is so much more than that but I am happy it’s here and existing and I am thankful for Rookie and all its witchiness and bad assery it is offering.

  • Tessa October 4th, 2011 2:23 PM

    Hilarious. I suffer with the same introvert/extrovert problem. It’s part of being born on a cusp! I’m glad you ended up being a part of it all!

    http://teafortessa.blogspot.com

  • Pashupati October 4th, 2011 3:30 PM

    You made me learn something (awesome) about Queen.
    That text was really funny, and one of my favorites on the site as for now.
    It reminded me a tad of Simon Doonan’s writings.
    I wish I could see Rocky Horror /and/ get to participate, but I think even if a movie theater show it in France people would get mad at me for throwing rice.
    I guess when I’ll get friends, I’ll do that with them in some dark room. (what? no, not that!)

  • Britte October 4th, 2011 4:42 PM

    I credit Rocky Horror with helping me come out of my shell too, back in sophomore year of high school.
    Thanks so much for this! Love it.

  • rhymeswithorange October 4th, 2011 7:17 PM

    Fabulous! love love love

  • AineFey October 4th, 2011 7:52 PM

    I’ve never been to a Rocky Horror midnight show. I love the movie and would love to go to one. It’s definitely worthy of obsessing over. It’s in my top 5 favorite movies. I think I discovered it when it was released for its 25th anniversary.

  • PoisonIvy October 4th, 2011 10:29 PM

    i am a transylvainian at heart, forever. <3

  • nicolem October 4th, 2011 10:40 PM

    I also saw Rocky Horror when I was 13, snuck at a friends house, after I grew up with a strictly hetero-normative mormon childhood. Rocky Horror as intro to sex was about the best remedy I could imagine for introducing sex as diverse, exciting, and based on personal and mutual gratification.

  • Jenny October 4th, 2011 11:56 PM

    I love love love this! There are so many many gems.

    “I am probably the only person whom the D.A.R.E. program actually worked on,” made me giggle all day.

    Unstoppable love for Kevin Townley! <3

  • RAE-209 October 5th, 2011 3:08 AM

    Over the years I’ve performed Rocky Horror, I keep hearing things like, “Why do you insist on dressing in those ridiculous, pornographic costumes and parading around like a spaz month after month? You don’t even get paid!”
    This.
    This is why.

  • kellykareen October 5th, 2011 9:10 PM

    i love this! but. i have a comment.

    in the beginning you said jesus came into your life. but i didn’t see jesus anywhere in this story. i just saw a bigot using the name of jesus to justify his bigotry.

    i know, i know, you probably don’t want to hear from a christian. i just wanted to put it out there that i used to be against the idea of christianity, too, because it’s unsettling to me that so much hatred is backed up by misinterpretations of the bible. but looking at the character of jesus, he has no problem with anyone being gay. he hung out with prostitutes for god’s sake.

    sorry for the rant. i just wanted to let you know that there are christians who aren’t all that bad and that the god i believe to be real loves you just the way you are.

  • RachelTri October 6th, 2011 2:26 AM

    This is fantastic! So hilarious, too. X)

    When I first saw RHPS I was 12 years old. My best friend Olivia showed it to me in her basement at a sleepover once, and it became a tradition that still lasts to watch it whenever we get together. By then, I knew enough about sex to know my parents probably wouldn’t have approved of me watching it at that point in my life. We used to walk around school listening to it on her CD player and would do a weird little walk to the “Let’s do the time warp again!” lyrics. My sixth grade music teacher did not enjoy listening when we suggested the Time Warp for Halloween music. :)

    I haven’t been to a midnight showing yet, but I really want to! It sounds like it would be a blast! Thanks so much for sharing this!

  • ReneeRevolution October 7th, 2011 1:42 AM

    I got chills reading about the opening of the film. Reminds me of my first time!

    “And God said, let there be lips!”

  • Lena October 9th, 2011 12:20 PM

    This is the first time I’ve commented on Rookie . I just wanted to say that this was a great article on teenage life, and the scene of you putting your bulb into your mouth and then laying alone in your bed felt like this time of my life. Thanks for telling an honest story

  • pansycakes April 9th, 2013 1:58 AM

    I love Rocky Horror ! My friend even dressed up as dr.frank n furter on my birthday once <3
    amazing article !

    http://youareawallflower.wordpress.com/